The AFC Wildcard picture got much murkier Thursday when Houston lost star rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson for the season to a torn ACL, and previously surging Buffalo looked awful in a loss to the NY Jets.
NFL: Houston Texans’ star QB Deshaun Watson lost for season with torn ACL; market drops 5.5 points for Tom Savage
Horrible news Thursday, as rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a torn ACL at practice in Houston. Original season starter Tom Savage gets his job back…the one that he lost at halftime of a disastrous 2017 debut.
The market was skeptical about Watson at first, but came to embrace the former Clemson star and Heisman Trophy winner as a true impact player. It’s still skeptical about Savage! The settled line adjustment was 5.5 points on the team side, and 6 points on the total.
Thursday morning line: Houston (-12.5/52) vs. Indianapolis
After Watson’s Injury: Houston (-7/46) vs. Indianapolis
The visiting Colts are one of the worst teams in the NFL. They also made headlines Thursday by announcing that Andrew Luck would sit out the full season as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. Indy, at 2-6, can’t tank out to get the #1 draft pick without help because both Cleveland and San Francisco are still winless. It will be interesting to see if the Colts treat this as a winnable game and play with fire (as they did last week at Cincinnati).
In our estimated “market” Power Ratings (which run every Tuesday in VsiN City), we’ve reduced Houston from 80 (Wildcard caliber) to 75 (roughly a 5-11 caliber team) based on the 5.5 point adjustment. Here’s a quick look at remaining games for Houston, and their opponents’ current “market” Power Rating
Hills for Houston (3-4) to Climb
vs. Indianapolis (71)
at the LA Rams (80)
vs. Arizona (76)
at Baltimore (76)
at Tennessee (79)
vs. San Francisco (71)
at Jacksonville (79)
vs. Pittsburgh (84)
at Indianapolis (71)
That’s such a weak schedule that Houston still has a chance to make a run at 8-9 wins and a possible Wildcard spot in a mediocre conference. Obviously, they’d have to beat the Colts this week to avoid falling to 3-5 and darkening the cloud of doom over this injury-riddled season. But, there are currently three games with league dregs (two with Indy, one vs. the Niners), and two more against teams who aren’t far away from “Houston with Savage” (Arizona and Baltimore).
If you have five winnable games from a 3-4 starting point…then a .500 mark is within reach. If Savage learned more about how to win with his offensive compatriots while watching Watson (admittedly a reach since Savage has held a clipboard for a few years), then maybe Houston’s only going to drop to 77-ish, creating upset potential vs. the Rams, Titans, and Jaguars.
For now, the market is suggesting 7-9 is a good ballpark figure. And, handicappers should be aware that the drop-off could actually be MORE than what the market is suggesting. Savage hasn’t established he can walk and chew gum in an NFL pocket. Watson could pirouette while dodging defenders and tossing touchdown passes.
Houston got some help in the Wildcard race Thursday night when Buffalo lost at the NY Jets…
NFL: Buffalo Bills’ balloon pops in ugly Thursday night loss to the NY Jets
Maybe hold off printing those playoff tickets just yet in western New York. The AFC Wildcard leading Buffalo Bills looked anything but a playoff team in a 34-21 loss to the NY Jets that wasn’t as close as the final score made it sound. New York led 34-7 with six minutes left before the Bills won garbage time 14-0.
NY Jets (plus 3) 34 Buffalo 21
- Yards-per-Play: Buffalo 4.4, NY Jets 5.3
- Total Yards: Buffalo 307, NY Jets 331
- Third Down Pct: Buffalo 41%, NY Jets 43%
- Rushing Yards: Buffalo 63, NY Jets 194
- Passing Stats: Buffalo 29-40-0-244, NY Jets 14-20-0-137
- Turnovers: Buffalo 3, NY Jets 0
- Touchdown Drive Lengths: Buffalo 62-75-52, NY Jets 54-74-61-5
Buffalo was long overdue to suffer some turnovers after a such a spotless start to the 2017 season. Those three giveaways tonight match the three they had suffered combined in their first seven games. But, this wasn’t a “turnover” loss. Our handy “stat score” formula (2 times rushing yards, plus passing yards, times 0.67, divided by 15) shows a 23-17 win for the home dog even with those late garbage time yards in the mix.
NYJ owned the point of attack. Winning the turnover category helped boost their margin.
Poor timing for an article from ESPN today on the “polarization” Taylor (who was sacked seven times Thursday night) is causing amongst observers. Is he an unrecognized “franchise” player? Is he so bad he should be benched? Football chatter has a tendency to go in circles when it doesn’t have to. Last night we showed you that Buffalo entered this game averaging 4.8 yards-per-play on offense (which ranked #25 entering the new week) while facing the #27 ranked schedule. There’s NO WAY an offense can have a GREAT quarterback with such poor offensive volume. Couldn’t happen. Franchise quarterbacks will make a run at 6 YPP vs. tough schedules. Even mediocre quarterbacks will make a run at 5.5 YPP vs. soft schedules.
Tonight’s 4.4 vs. the Jets hurts the average, and doesn’t toughen up the schedule.
Taylor is athletic. Buffalo’s braintrust has been smart about focusing on what he can do, and not asking him to try too much of what he can’t do. But mostly avoiding turnovers in a very safe offense isn’t a characteristic of a “franchise” player. The fact that you HAVE to run a very safe offense to compete is already decisive evidence that a QB isn’t a star. Yards-per-play stats will carry a very heavy (and properly intuitive) analytical load if you’ll let them. Common sense is allowed.
Buffalo falls to 5-3. They’ve looked so shaky offensively on the road that it would be hard to like them in the playoffs as a Wildcard because they’d be playing away from home against a divisional winner.
The Jets are now 4-5, with four the magic number for Regular Season Win totals in Las Vegas. It’s amazing how many summer pundits were sure this team was going to be helpless. As bad as Cleveland is playing now…the 2017 Jets were supposed to be worse than that! Credit to the coaching staff and the players for making do with what they’ve got to play competitive football all season. If you don’t show up prepared to play against this team, they’ll outwork you.
- Buffalo: vs. New Orleans on Sunday November 12
- NY Jets: at Tampa Bay on Sunday November 5
Saints/Bills should be a lot of fun, as Buffalo will be back at home with extra rest and a chip on their shoulder after this bad performance. Both will still be in the thick of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences. The Jets have a chance to pull off another upset given how shaky Tampa Bay has been in recent weeks.
College Football: Previews of Saturday's showcase showdowns
As we mentioned yesterday, there are several college football games this Saturday matching ranked teams. Let’s take a quick peek at yards-per-play numbers for all involved, and their schedule rankings according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today.
From this point forward in the season, whenever we mention “Top 25 rankings,” we’ll be referring to the “playoff” rankings rather than the AP poll.
Big 10 Danger Spots
- OSU (#6): 7.3 on offense, 4.5 on defense (vs. #37 ranked schedule)
- Iowa : 5.3 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. #25 ranked schedule)
- Penn State (#7): 6.5 on offense, 4.4 on defense (vs. #24 ranked schedule)
- Mich State (#24): 5.3 on offense, 4.4 on defense (vs. #16 ranked schedule)
Ohio State and Penn State are both in potential danger spots this week on the road against decent competition. The market doesn’t think Ohio State will have to sweat. Their big advantage in YPP shows you why. That said…these defenses are fairly similar…and Iowa can make it interesting if they only allow yards in the middle of the field before clamping down in the red zone. That gave the Hawkeyes a shot to beat Penn State. To the degree there can be “pollution” in YPP data, it’s when offensive powers run up huge numbers in friendly situations in a way that’s tougher to produce when challenged. Michigan State has played the toughest schedule of the group. If not for that multi-overtime war vs. Northwestern last week, Sparty would have made sense here as a home dog.
Big 12 Bedlam
- Oklahoma (#5): 8.3 on offense, 5.6 on defense (vs. #28 ranked schedule)
- Okie State (#11): 7.4 on offense, 4.8 on defense (vs. #31 ranked schedule)
You’ll often see teams in the same conference grading out with similar schedule strengths in Sagarin’s methodology. That’s helpful to stat handicappers. Here you can see that both are roughly as good in differential (plus 2.7 to plus 2.6 for OU). But, Okie State has the better of the two defenses. OU can really get spotty in shootouts, particularly late when the defense runs out of gas. Sharps have been betting OU fairly confidently, as the line has moved below the key number of three and settled. It takes, either a lot of money, or respected money to move off the trey, particularly DOWN.
- LSU (#19): 6.5 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. #52 ranked schedule)
- Alabama (#2): 7.0 on offense, 3.9 on defense (vs. #55 ranked schedule)
There’s been some squawking about Alabama’s schedule. Yes, it turned out to be easier than expected when the conference as a whole disappointed. But, the neutral site season opener vs. Florida State wasn’t a gift. We saw a publication suggest Fresno State was the toughest team Alabama had played. FSU with Francois at quarterback was likely a Top 10 caliber team. He played most of that game. Fresno State is not the toughest team Alabama played.
- Clemson (#4): 6.0 on offense, 4.3 on defense (vs. #4 ranked schedule)
- NC State (#20): 6.1 on offense, 5.5 on defense (vs. #26 ranked schedule)
- Va. Tech (#13): 5.8 on offense, 4.4 on defense (vs. #76 ranked schedule)
- Miami (#10): 6.7 on offense, 4.7 on defense (vs. #44 ranked schedule)
It’s not apparent in the stats why Virginia Tech earned so much respect from sharps creating that line move that flipped the favorite vs. Miami. The Hurricanes have the superior YPP differential vs. the tougher schedule. Yes, Miami has been kind of shaky lately. Let’s see if Virginia Tech can prove they’re worthy of the affection. Clemson has the best defense of the group, facing the toughest schedule of the group. Miami has the best YPP differential…but isn’t playing to that form in the last few weeks. Interesting games both. And, perhaps evidence that this is a group to watch in the postseason. NC State may have been outclassed by Notre Dame. They won’t be that outclassed by their likely bowl opponent. Miami hosts Notre Dame next week.
Pac 12 Powderkegs
- Stanford (#20): 7.1 on offense, 5.8 on defense (vs. #43 ranked schedule)
- Wash St. (#25): 5.9 on offense, 4.9 on defense (vs. #54 ranked schedule)
- Arizona (#22): 7.6 on offense, 5.6 on defense (vs. #57 ranked schedule)
- So. Calif (#17): 6.4 on offense, 5.6 on defense (vs. #8 ranked schedule)
Stanford’s lucky win at Oregon State last week was so ugly it was hard to fathom. The Cardinal lost on the road at San Diego State earlier this season, which might also be a negative indicator here. They do have the superior YPP margin vs. a slightly tougher schedule. They can run up numbers vs. opponents who have trouble tackling their star running back Bryce Love (who’s still listed as questionable). Arizona has become quite a story, and would stunningly take control of the Pac 12 South with a road upset. Both have one league loss. Arizona would move a game ahead in the loss column while owning the head-to-head tie-breaker should they win at the Coliseum.
Last week we did a full-blown expanded preview for Penn State/Ohio State. We’ll do that again for any battle of top 10 teams in this final month of the regular season…and probably for most conference championship games. Fun to have so many games of intense interest to pop in on this week. Enjoy the telecasts and good luck on your bets.
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